Don't make me a second-class citizen because I ride a bicycle

IT'S strange being part of a disliked minority. There's a line of thought that applies to cyclists that they all run red lights, ride on the pavements and don't use lights at night. The natural conclusion to draw, therefore, is that if you abide by all of the generally accepted rules then you will be exempt from rebuke and free from aggravation from your fellow road users. Which couldn't really be further from the truth.

The reasons for dislike are convenient excuses, something I know for certain since I ride, at all times, in a perfectly lawful manner, and yet still find myself cut-up, occasionally shouted at, and basically thought of as a second-class citizen. It is basic human instinct to be wary of "different" and seek reasons to dislike it, and when you seek reasons you find them aplenty, while being blind to what should be the more obvious majority who actually aren't doing anything wrong. And so the tarring expands to make cyclists even more different. Tofu-knitting sandal-wearing hippies the lot of them. Arrogant and smug and dress up stupidly in Lycra. Don't pay road tax like I do, and that pays for their cycle paths. Probably only on a bike because he can't afford a car.

I have to say that environmental benefits are a nice by-product, or rather lack of by-product, but I like my foreign holidays and cars – yes, cars – too much for it to be an over-riding concern. And while I don't personally wear Lycra to commute, there are few methods of transport that would give you quite the same backside that you'd actually want to show-off in figure-hugging material. As for road tax, well I pay it on my car, which I leave at home. Maybe that entitles me to a rebate.

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Absolutely none of this, however, will make a difference out on the road, where I am merely a "cyclist". A moving obstruction which, even when travelling at 30mph, must be overtaken just before the anchors are weighed to join the back of the next queue of cars. Of course, it's the bike holding him up. I could get a sign to wear on my bike saying something like "I stop at red lights, don't ride on the pavement, have insurance, and own a car" but I would still doubt the effect.

So why on earth do I ride to work every day, no matter what the weather, if the traffic is so aggressive (I would hesitate to say "dangerous" as I don't believe this is the case) and I'm not trying to prove any political or sociological point? The simple answer is, because I enjoy it.

When you cycle to work every day, rain, shine or howling gale accompanied by hailstorm and freezing temperatures, you come to appreciate how easy life can be. Filtering past queues of motorists, you bypass the crawl of the modern city in the mornings and early evenings; picking routes out that would end in dead ends for others; leaving earlier in the morning, or taking your time coming home, because it's just such a nice day and every now and then it's good to take it all in. Even if the weather is awful, you arrive at work and change into your clean and warm clothes and suddenly all is right with the world. That first coffee tastes like nectar, despite being Nescafe instant. Appreciation is heightened and you sit at your desk feeling comfortable and ready to attack the day.

Whenever I have to take the car to work the difference is marked. Suddenly, I'm irritable at queues. People not indicating serve only to fuel the fire, and woe betide anyone on their mobile phone who moves out into a hatched yellow area before it is clear.

And strange things happen to the perception others have of me. On the bike I was a figure to dislike, but here I am, the same person, just in a different mode of transport, easily doing more to hold up the person behind, but suddenly I am just "traffic" rather than an obstruction. The dichotomy in my own personality, and an inverse reaction to that personality, is something which is hard to understand, until you realise that in the car you are conforming.

But if that is the price then I am happy to continue to be different, and if being more relaxed, healthier and fitter is the result then I'm not going to complain. It might look like smugness, it just feels like contentment.

If you crack the Highway Code life might be a bit less stressful

THERE are some who will tell you that the Highway Code is merely that, a code which is advisory at best, and in the main this is correct. However, where the words MUST or MUST NOT are used these rules are backed up with legislative force and as such these terms of the Code can effectively have legal force.

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• White front and red rear lights must be used at night and are a pragmatic solution to make yourself seen and avoid being squashed. A red rear reflector must also be present. Flashing lights have been legal for a number of years and there are strong psychological theories that they make the light more instantly noticeable, though conversely it has been suggested it can make judging distance a tad more difficult.

• Light coloured, or reflective, clothing is not a legal requirement, just as cars do not have to be painted in dayglo. In daylight it has been suggested that the most common bright yellow actually fades into the background. It remains the case that as a first resort a good light is a better prevention rather than the cure of clothing.

• The law does not require cyclists to wear a helmet, although the arguments will rage long and hard about the need or otherwise for this to be made compulsory.

• Pavement cycling is forbidden by the Roads (Scotland) Act 1985. Contrary to popular belief, however, it is also explicit that pushing your bike on the pavement is perfectly legal.

• You can obviously ride on any path designated a cycle track, with the added permission to "cross" a footpath, while riding, to access that cycle track.

However, there is ambiguity as to exactly what "cross" means, as it is not something which has yet been legally tested, or for that matter what constitutes a "footpath" in this context.

Common use would suggest that where a cycle track can only be accessed by a path which runs to it, then riding on that path is allowed. Yet further interpretation of section 129 of the Act suggests that a footpath is only one which adjoins a road and so those access paths are not actually footpaths within the meaning of the restriction.

• While on a path delineated between cyclists and pedestrians a cyclist must remain on his side, but the same restriction does not apply to pedestrians.

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• There is no obligation for cyclists to use a cycle path when there is one in the area where they are riding. The biggest myth with regard to cycle paths, apart from them being paid for out of "road" tax, is that their use is mandatory. This is something that wasn't missed when the most recent changes to the Highway Code were made, resulting in great pains being taken with the wording to make it clear that they are not compulsory.

The Highway Code isn't perfect, but many of its suggestions are borne out of a need for respect amongst all road users. In that sense the spirit is as important as the specific rules, perhaps more so, legally binding or not, and if pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike were more aware of it the urban landscape could certainly be less stressful.

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